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Great American Outdoor Show Day Six – Fired Up Trump Supporters

Having worked as a volunteer at two different booths and at a separate nearby event at the Great American Outdoor Show here in Harrisburg this week, there is one big takeaway: Attendees are overwhelmingly passionate about President Donald Trump and seeing him be re-elected.

At first the constant parade of Trump 2020 hats going past my eyes did not hit home. Ya know, it’s the biggest outdoor show and gathering in the world, and outdoors folk are naturally conservative, so why not expect to see them…is what I unconsciously thought.

And then as the first day ticked through the first hours, my mind began to start its own “clicker” count of Trump and Trump-Pence hats going by. And mind you, this particular booth is in the Fishing Hall, and a lot of GAOS visitors are there for the hunting guides, the demonstrations, and the opportunity to handle and try out lots and lots of firearms. So this spot I was in is hardly representative of the overall visitor population.

And the mental “clicks” immediately surpassed my ability to keep counting. Somewhere around 150 my mind said that it had had enough of trying to keep track of Trump hats while also greeting visitors and engaging with them on issues of wildlife policy and politics and raffle tickets for guns. So if I saw 150 Trump hats on heads in about 30 minutes, and the rest of the day was just as filled with them, then about 2,600 went by in the day in that particular location.

Another stint at another GAOS booth on another day reinforced the same observation, except I have to admit up front that it was the Trump Campaign booth I was volunteering in. And of course the visitors here naturally self-selected for visits, and about fifty percent had Trump hats. Even those visitors to the Trump Campaign booth who did not have Trump hats were just as FIRED UP as the hat wearers, however.

The Trump Campaign booth was a non-stop feeding frenzy of activity. If you sat down to take a breather, you had to get right back up again to help someone fill out a form. And at any given time there were half a dozen of us working that booth. We were constantly busy.

I know, I know, the GAOS naturally attracts exactly the kind of people who are going to support president Trump anyhow – outdoorsmen, gun owners, pickup truck drivers, etc. But, having attended and volunteered at this show in both of its forms for many years (I started the 2012 vendor boycott that ended the prior Reed Expositions representation of the show, and which eventually resulted in the NRA taking over) I have never before seen anywhere near this level of politicized, politically aware, FIRED UP attendees.

In fact, in years past, it was rare if you got into any kind of political discussion with attendees beyond wildlife policies. Even Second Amendment rights were largely passe to the vast majority of past attendees, who seemed to just want to look at new RVs, camping gear, duck calls, and hunting rifles without being hassled about politics. Politics was off everyone’s radar in the past.

So if this politicized crowd with its nonstop stream of Trump hats is any indication, Trump’s voter base is both larger than in 2016, and a lot more passionate and politically involved. In fact, all of the people I registered to vote or spoke with felt personally invested in the outcome of this November’s election.

And personally dedicated to Donald J. Trump’s re-election.

This bodes very well for President Trump’s re-election prospects.

So God bless flyover country and the NRA.

Great American Outdoor Show is in Harrisburg, and it is Fantastic

The Great American Outdoor Show, which used to be called the Eastern Outdoor Show until the former promoter turned anti-gun and tried to block vendors from showcasing their modern sporting rifles, is on and happening in Harrisburg through Sunday.

I have been volunteering a bit for the PA Federation of Sportsman’s Clubs, not nearly as much as I have in the past, but still contributing and selling raffle tickets to friendly people who visit the booth.

Last year the Federation raffled off a Bushmaster AR-15, and this year we are just doing cash.  Right now the pot is a few thousand dollars, and by the time the raffle is drawn it’ll be much more.  Some of the proceeds go to support the Federation, so it’s a good cause.

I stopped in to visit the Unified Sportsmen booth the other day, but the person I sought was not there and the volunteers were just leaving, but I am looking forward to hearing their perspective on sportsmen’s issues.

The River’s Edge canoe and kayak sales by Neill and Evelyn Andritz  sold me on a Hobie kayak.  But let me tell you, these kayaks today are not your Nanuk of the North kayaks of old.  My friends, these things might as well be on the space shuttle for when our guys find water on Mars, because they are nothing like the sloppy, floppy, tipsy, floating death traps we used to squeeze ourselves into.  Today’s Hobie kayak is a blended hybrid, using the best qualities of canoes, surf boards, and kayaks to bring small-craft fishing into the 22nd century.  The Mirage Pro Angler 14 and the Mirage Outback were the two I had to choose between in the end, but being a “Big Guy” means that the 600-pound capacity of the Mirage Pro Angler is a must-have.

And beyond the fat-guy-and-all-his-gear capacity, the technical bells and whistles are amazing.  Stand-up stabilizing bars, leg-driven flipper drives that look and power like an orca tail, bait coolers, adjustable seats that would be at home in a Maserati, sleek rudder controls you can use with your elbow, hand, or foot, storage lockers running the full length for stashing kit so big you can harpoon the shark of your dreams, rod holders everywhere, holes for masts, and so on.

And all this above is about just one vendor with two small self-powered boats I liked in the Farm Show complex that is loaded to the gills with gear, knives, guns, outfitters from around the world, specialty clothing and footwear, trophy services, archery gear so sophisticated I feel like I am Stone Age when I handle it, RVs, ATVs, camping gear, bug-out survival gear, and so on and on for much more.

The Great American Outdoor Show is worth visiting if for no other reason than to say you went and witnessed one of the wonders of the world.  It is the biggest show of its kind in the world, and even if our new governor, Tom Wolf, isn’t interested in attending (incredibly that is true), you definitely should.

Risk & Sacrifice separate grass roots activists from insulated party professionals

In 2009, like many other citizens shocked at the sudden, dramatic changes and corruption re-shaping America, I greatly increased my political activity.

Part of a grass-roots wave of citizen activists that year, I ran in a four-way US Congressional primary.  It’s a long story, and in short I ended up liking one of my opponents so much I hoped he would win.  Along the way, several people closely affiliated with the Republican Party tried to dissuade me from running, assuring me that a certain sitting state senator would beat the incumbent Democrat, congressman Tim Holden.

Our campaign still netted about 25% of the vote in a four-way race, which is solid performance, especially considering that one of the candidates had run before, one was a sitting state senator, one was a well-known political activist, and we had gotten a late start and spent little money.

In the general election, Holden crushed the Republican state senator who won that primary race by 400 votes.

Fast forward to January 2012, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejects a new, heavily gerrymandered Republican redistricting plan.  At the heart of the court’s decision was the “egregious” and grossly unnatural shape of the 15th state senate district, where I happened to then reside, and still do now, too.

The PA Supreme Court called the new district “the iron cross,” and indeed it looked like a cross shape and was iron clad against upstart citizens asserting themselves in political races reserved for establishment members only.

(My current congressional district is the same, with only about ten blocks of Harrisburg City included in what is otherwise a large, rural district reaching the Maryland state line. Guess who lives in that ten-block area. Yes. Me. )

Given my previous public interest in running for the 15th senate seat, it was obvious that excluding our family’s home from that district was purposeful: It was an attempt by political bosses to artificially silence and thwart an otherwise good candidate who does not see his job as serving political bosses.

The court’s ruling allowed a handful of us to wage a tremendous grass roots 11th hour campaign for that senate seat, getting our start two days into the three-week ballot petition process.

Although we did not win, we did give the political bosses a hell of a challenge by winning a huge number of votes with only pennies spent.

A year later, York businessman Scott Wagner beat those same political bosses for his state senate seat, in a historic write-in campaign against a million dollars of party money. The race, and its remarkable result, drew national attention.  Clearly the voters responded to Wagner’s grass roots campaign in the face of a party juggernaut.

This evening I spent some time speaking with an NRA staffer.  We met at the Great American Outdoor Show, which is the former Eastern Outdoors Show and now NRA-run at the PA Farm Show complex, and he gave me an opportunity to vent a bit and explain my frustration with the NRA.

To wit: An increasing number of grass roots activists now perceive the NRA as merely an arm of the Republican Party establishment political bosses.  The same bosses who oppose conservative/ independent candidates like me and Wagner.

See, back in 2012, I was the only NRA member in that three-way primary race (to be fair, one candidate had been an NRA member for several months, which could never, ever be construed as a political move, even though he was the candidate selected by the same political bosses who created a safe district for him to run in), but the NRA refused to get involved.

If there was any endorsement that was deserved in that race, it would have been the NRA endorsing their one and only member, and a decades-long member at that – Me. (Firearm Owners Against Crime did endorse the one pro-Second Amendment candidate, thank you very much, Kim Stolfer)

And then tonight it dawned on me on the way home from the Farm Show complex…two basic but defining experiences separate grass roots activists and candidates from the party establishment: Risk taking and making sacrifices.

By definition, grass roots candidates take many risks and make many sacrifices, both of which are seen as signs of weakness by the establishment.

Self-starters motivated by principle and passion for good government, the grass roots candidates and activists have to reach into their own pockets to get any traction, and they often risk their jobs and businesses in challenging the establishment power structure.  To get invitations to events, they have to reach out and ask, knock on doors, make phone calls.  They have to cobble together campaigns made of volunteers and pennies, and they usually are grossly under-funded now matter how successful they are.

On the other hand, party establishment candidates have the ready-made party machine in their sails from the get-go.  Money, experienced volunteers, paid staffers, refined walking lists, the establishment can muster a tremendous force in a relatively short time.  Establishment candidates also enjoy artificial party endorsements (formal or informal) that give them access to huge pots of party campaign funds or a leg-up in other ways.

Establishment groups like NRA view grass roots candidates the same way as the party establishment views them- trouble makers.

In short, few if any establishment candidates put in their own money to drive their campaigns, take risks, or make sacrifices in their pursuit of elected office. Everything is done for them by other people.

So long as party establishment staff and officials and groups like NRA maintain this artificial lifestyle and view, this alternate reality, this disconnect between the grass roots voters and the party that needs their votes will continue and deepen.

So long as the voters see grass roots activists and candidates struggling against an unfair arrangement that is created solely for the preservation of political power and profit, they will continue to migrate away from the party and support people they can relate to the most.

An elder in my family once told me that taking risks and making sacrifices build character and lead to success, and although a 26-year career full of both risks and sacrifices has often left me wondering at the truth of that claim, I increasingly see it bearing out in electoral politics.

The voters are not dumb; they can see the pure American earnestness in their fellow citizen fighting City Hall.  They respect risk-taking and sacrifices made in the pursuit of saving America.  That is a strong character which no establishment candidate can or ever will have.

Those political parties and groups that ignore that strong American character do so at their own risk, because they will lose the supporters they need to be successful.

 

Last day of Great American Outdoor Show

If you have not yet gone to the new Great American Outdoor Show, today’s the day.

Even if you’re not a hunter, there’s still much to see and do. The Farm Show complex is enormous and every hall is packed. RVs, campers, boats, fishing everything, mapping, GPS technology, clothing. Etc.

One thing I noticed last week was a booth full of furs also selling turtle shells. Whether or not these shells are from wild native turtles, illegal, or from some farmed non-native species, it disturbed me to see them. Turtles take a good ten years to reach maturity, when they can begin breeding. Their nests are subject to raids by raccoons, skunks, snakes, possums, and bears. ATVs and dirt bikes often are ridden over the soft soils turtles choose to lay their eggs.  Collectors grab them for illegal sales, dads take them home for their kids to see, etc.

You get the picture. Turtles don’t have it easy.

If there’s one thing missing from the GAOS, it’s an emphasis on land, water, and wildlife conservation. Plenty of emphasis on the taking part, not much on the conserving part. Maybe that’ll change at next year’s show.

Some observations on knives sold at the Great American Outdoor Show

Knife production is reaching an apex, it appears. Never before in one place have I seen so many higher quality production knives as I have seen at the Great American Outdoor Show. Many booths selling hundreds and hundreds of better quality folding knives, with some custom and semi-custom knife sellers sprinkled around.

Oddly, you can’t find a sharpening stone in the entire Farm Show complex to save your blade’s life. No one is selling sharpening stones. Blades out the wazoo, yes. Ways to keep them functioning, no. Whether it is a sign of the throw-away society meeting Pleistocene Man, or too much optimism about modern steels’ edge retention capability, it is an odd sign indeed.

Once the purview of expensive custom knives, Damascus blades are now ubiquitous, although most are probably made in Pakistan and India, so their quality cannot be real high, and you’ve got no idea of their cadmium, arsenic, or lead content, either, although I am willing to bet these blades are positively toxic to human health. They do look nice, though.

[Damascus steel is a mix of different types of metals that when folded over and over and then hammered out reveal an appealing variety of patterns. Because metal types used in Damascus steel vary widely, quality varies widely. I use only Alabama Damascus in my knives]

Clearly, there is a bleeding over from the custom knife market into the high production market, where quality used to suffer badly. Knife buying Americans evidently have improved tastes and higher expectations for their over-the-counter knives. That’s a good thing. But do they have to be made in those rainbow colors? They hurt my eyes. Camo handles are humorous – drop your knife, never find your knife, lose your knife. Maybe those rainbow colored handles work, after all.

One other observation is the high number of bug-out bags being made. Man, Americans seem ready for the apocalypse. After seeing so many of these grab-and-run packs, I now realize that I need one, too. No, my oh-so-1970s Kelty backpacks do not seem up to snuff, even though they have served me well on rugged wilderness trips for many years. Nope, camo is de rigeur here, too.

Come on by the PA Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs booth and buy a raffle ticket for our Bushmaster AR-15 M4. Just ten bucks gets you a lot closer to having your bug-out bag fully equipped with a state-of-the-art rifle.

Good show! JRJ Knives sells out at Great American Outdoor Show

Want the sign of a good show?  Watch the vendors sell out of their items only a couple of days in.

JRJ knives of New Buffalo is my go-to source for top of the line custom knives. John uses ATS-34 steel and stock removal (with a little welding and hammering now and then) to make any knife you want or need. He and I have several knife projects under way, mostly using Alabama Damascus steel and hippo tooth, and although the wait can be longer than you’d like, the results are always better than you could have imagined. JRJ makes high quality knives.

Well, last Sunday I stopped in at the JRJ Knives booth at the Great American Outdoor Show, and John was nowhere to be seen. He was back at the shop, his wife Jodi said, because they had sold out of nearly all their knives.  That is, they had sold more knives in the first 24 hours of the show than they expected to sell during the entire week.

Today I was shopping around for old fashioned whet stones.  You know, the old fine-grained novaculite Arkansas sharpening stones that were once a staple in every American kitchen.  You’d expect to find lots of them for sale at the Great American Outdoors Show, especially given how many knife vendors there are.  Nary a one, oddly.  Either modern newfangled steels have become self-sharpening, or even rugged outdoorsmen no longer sharpen their own knives.  Something odd is afoot. One knife vendor said that he had sold out of all of his premium knives, and had to order more; he hoped they would arrive by tomorrow.

But back to the main point here: All this selling out of items in a day or two is a good show.  So far, it is a big success.  If you haven’t yet visited, you should.  It has a whole new look, feel, and energy.  And yes, there are AR15s on display everywhere.

Goin’ to the big show

The NRA may not do a great job of thanking, recognizing, or appreciating its members’ grass roots work that shut down the Eastern Outdoors Sports Show and turned it into the Great American Outdoor Show, but the show is on, nonetheless. I’ll be there all week, off and on, and I hope to see you there.

Hunters United for Sunday Hunting @ Great American Outdoor Show

Hunters United for Sunday Hunting will be in booth 4511 in the Outfitters Hall of the Great American Outdoor Show. Come see us.

NRA? All the way!

The National Rifle Association has agreed to run the former Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, now to be called the Great American Outdoor Show.

Dauphin County commissioner Jeff Haste led the effort to find a suitable vendor for the huge PA Farm Show complex. The ESOS has been worth anywhere from $45 million to $88 million annually to the local economy, and losing it was a huge impact on the region.

The fact that yours truly played the key role in blowing the whistle is both happy and sad. I’ve been blamed for ruining the show and praised for calling attention to the former promoter, Reed Exhibitions, and getting them knocked out. Alex Cameron, Jr., was the vendor who tipped me off.

My friend and custom knife maker/supplier is John Johnson, and he took a financial beating because the show wasn’t held. Now he has confidence that the 2014 show will be better than several of the prior ones put together, and he can plan accordingly.

The NRA has invited all five million of its members to visit the 2014 show, so you know it’s going to be crowded, fun, and full of exciting gear and trips. And you can be sure that modern sporting rifles will be present and accounted for, in force….

Thank you to Commissioner Haste, the Corbett Administration, and the NRA for getting the show re-established. And thank you to all of the patriotic Americans who decided to take a hit to stop the British – based Reed Exhibitions this past February.

See you all next February at the Great American Outdoor Show!

UPDATE: As if you haven’t already read this elsewhere, the US Senate voted down the unconstitutional ‘background check’ federal database gun confiscation bill proposed shamefully by senators Manchin (WV) and Toomey (PA). Let’s get these two buffoons out of office post-haste. You cannot be a US senator, attack the US Constitution this way, and then be taken seriously by those of us in favor of maximum freedom for citizens.